During 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, showed itself to be– with apologies to Lawrence of Arabia scriptwriters– a divided city, a silly city, delusional, chaotic and mad. Hillary Clinton was honored in the self-styled Capital of the Resistance as a lifelong advocate for women and took the opportunity to lament the “excruciating” double standard that has handicapped her. Meanwhile, the local chapter of The Needlework Guild Association has closed down, which means that hundreds of articles of winter clothing the group customarily donated to a Christmas charity for underprivileged kids will not be available this year. These seemingly disparate happenings tell the same sad story: the big talkers spouting tendentious nonsense matter in Charlottesville, while the vital center, represented by those kindly needlework ladies, can’t hold—in fact, it’s gone.
The latest testimonial to Charlottesville’s ruin is to be found in a December 1 report on the August 12 Unite the Right riot and ancillary events commissioned by the City (price tag $350,000) from a former US Attorney (and Obama appointee) for the Western District of Virginia. Most observers, including this one, expected a partisan whitewash of the City administration blaming the insensate evil of the Violent White Supremacist Right and Donald Trump for everything that went awry on August 12th. Instead, so stunningly harsh was the report’s critique of the City Council, administrators, and police that the local CBS affiliate’s goofy anchorman fell into a Hilary Clinton-level coughing fit when reporting it—compelling the poor guy to call for a commercial break in order to recover his composure. Even the report’s cover is damning, depicting a single Charlottesville police officer, bareheaded, sans riot gear, standing at a barricade (or bike rack), his back to distinctly unpleasant-looking “demonstrators” brandishing their free expression mounted on heavy hardwood staves.
Charlottesville’s increasingly uneasy newspaper of liberal record editorialized that “Reading about the scope of failures that put both the public and law officers at risk on Aug. 12 is, literally, a sickening, gut-wrenching experience.” Elsewhere the editorial called the report “damning” and “devastating,” and cited its condemnation of “interference of Charlottesville City Council, which… hampered efforts to prepare a unified, coordinated rally response and instead introduced elements of confusion.” Finally, it noted that the Commonwealth [City] attorney got an apparently obscure point of law dead wrong when he advised that “sticks that could be used as weapons” could not be banned from Unite the Right, thus explaining the nonchalance of the police officer on the report’s cover.
The December 1 report highlights how a city that sponsors radio ads to instruct citizens on the proper way to cross the street could not keep one of those streets closed to traffic during the Unite the Right riot, resulting in the death of a local woman and injuries to others. Speaking of important safety information, the report also notes how a town hall meeting ahead of the rally to advise the public about the city’s security plans and the legal issues related to the event “never happened” in the Mayor’s words, because employees “ran out of bandwidth” and “were all crazed.” An administration currently debating how to burn through a $9 million surplus could not even manage its end of contracts with two public relations firms engaged to provide “strategic communications support and counsel” and support “media engagement” before, during and after Unite the Right. The independent report notes few deliverables from these contracts beyond a set of talking points for a public meeting after the riot. While the talking points did not prevent that public meeting descending into mayhem and chaos, the consultants do deserve significant credit for assisting the Mayor “in coordinating and planning media interviews in the week following the rally.” Clearly this was money well-spent– since there are no reports of the Mayor trampling any innocent women and children in his frenzied rush from TV camera to TV camera during the 15 minutes of notoriety allotted him following Unite the Right.
The local response to the report on Unite the Right has been predictable. Ex-DA Heaphy, the principal author, has been called an “ambulance chaser,” and condemned for not designating endemic racism as the true cause of the riot. Already the loudest voices are raised to insure that race, rather than competence, remains the central issue in Charlottesville: “ [City Councilor –elect] Walker said she thinks it would be wrong to hold two black city leaders accountable for a white nationalist rally that Heaphy said was mishandled at both the state and local level.” Following what has become standard Charlottesville parliamentary procedure, at the City Council meeting on December 4 when he attempted to address the report, the Mayor was regularly silenced by heckling and laughing citizens: “as much as we want to make [Police Chief Al] Thomas look bad, you look bad …” said a woman who spoke at the public hearing, “we interrupt you because you deserve it.” Rude behavior perhaps, but there was less passion in comparison with earlier City Council melees this year and no circus antics to speak of. Outrage has become routine in Charlottesville, and its politics have become a gladiatorial combat, as aspiring radical reformers do battle before a howling mob demanding to see progressive fantasy embraced and serious redistributionist and Cultural Revolution blood flow or it’s thumbs down and be dragged out by the heels.
One Election Night video clip of what was supposed to be a victory statement by a conventional liberal soccer mom/Whole Foods shopper/jogger tells the story. Two seats on the City Council were up for grabs; the biggest vote-getter was an in-your-face radical Independent, while the Democrat soccer mom came in second. In what looks more like a hostage video, the stunned second-place winner takes in the scene—and realizes at that moment that she has a wolf by the ears and it is not going to be pleasant.
It’s not going to be pleasant for anyone; that is 2017’s legacy to Charlottesville.